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Independent audit report on the performance of the duties and functions of election officials – 42nd General Election

Executive summary

In response to section 164.1 of the Canada Elections Act, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was engaged to perform an independent, statutory audit and report on whether deputy returning officers (DRO), poll clerks (PC) and registration officers (REGO) have, on all days of advance polling and on polling day, properly exercised the powers conferred on them, and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them, under sections 143 to 149, 161 to 162 and 169 (hereinafter referred to as "the relevant sections") of the Canada Elections Act (CEA or "the Act").

In addition to other roles required to prepare for and support advance polling and election day, each returning officer (RO) is responsible for appointing a DRO, a PC and a REGO (collectively referred to as "election officials") to perform election related duties at a polling site. One DRO and one PC is required per polling station and typically, one REGO is assigned to each central polling site/place. It is the duties of these specific election officials that are included in the scope of this audit under S.164.1 of the Act.

The scope of the duties of election officials as prescribed in the relevant sections of the Act require election officials to register electors, request and examine each elector's proof of identity and address as well as administer and complete prescribed forms and certificates on all days of advance polling (held October 9–12, 2015) and on election day (held on October 19, 2015).

Any Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years of age as of election day may vote in the electoral district (ED) in which they reside. The CEA provides procedural safeguards designed to protect the integrity of the electoral process, one of which requires electors to prove eligibility (identity and residency) before receiving a ballot. For most electors who are already registered at their current address and therefore included on the List of Electors, election day procedures involve a simple, efficient check of one or more pieces of acceptable ID to confirm identity and address of residence. Based on our testing results, approximately 90% of electors voted in this manner. The remaining 10% of electors tested required special administrative procedures prior to being issued a ballot.

Election officials must administer special procedures for all electors whose residence is going to be attested to, who are not on the List of Electors, whose name has been previously crossed off the List of Electors in error or who require minor corrections to their information. Depending on the circumstances, special procedures include initiating the appropriate certificate, administering a verbal or written oath/declaration to the elector and administering a verbal warning/written oath to an elector and their attestor.

It is our understanding Elections Canada (EC) has introduced quality control procedures and enhanced the training materials since the previous general election (2011). We are also aware EC is challenged when recruiting optimally qualified temporary resources across all of the EDs in the short window of time before an election. We took these considerations into account when developing our audit strategy.

Our audit did not validate election results, assess whether election officials other than DROs, PCs and REGOs performed their specific legislative duties, assess performance of legislative duties that are not specifically referred to in S.164.1 of the Act nor did it assess the administrative controls of EC beyond those implemented for purposes of supporting election officials in the conduct of their duties under S.164.1 of the Act.

Our audit findings and conclusions are presented at an aggregate level. Our results are not attributed to any specific ED, polling site, polling station or election official. Our major findings and other observations are described below. Our recommendations are included in Appendix A to this report.

We performed our audit in accordance with the Canadian Standards on Assurance Engagements 3001: Direct Engagements (CSAE 3001).

Audit criteria

For this audit, the principal criteria and therefore our audit mandate are specifically prescribed in the relevant sections of the Act described above. For the purpose of this audit, we needed to decide, given the operating environment of EC, what would represent a significant deviation in the exercise of powers and the performance of the duties and functions of election officials. Working with EC officials as well as their External Audit Panel, we agreed on two levels of controls and procedures as well as reporting thresholds. Key controls and procedures are those performed by election officials which establish a person's qualification and entitlement to vote. Secondary controls are those which support/reinforce the elector's established qualification/entitlement to vote and are typically more record-keeping in nature.

The establishment of thresholds for reporting purposes was critical during the planning of the audit. The reporting thresholds were agreed with management and the External Audit Panel and reflected the relative importance of the control. For key controls, a deviation of 5% or more was considered a major finding. For those same key controls, a deviation of 2%–4.9% was considered as other observations. For secondary controls, a deviation of 11% or more was considered as other observations.

These thresholds were established in the context of the Supreme Court of Canada Judgement (Opitz v. Wrzesnewskyj, 2012 SCC 55) which noted inter alia that "Given the complexity of administering a federal election, the tens of thousands of election workers involved, many of whom have no on-the-job experience, and the short timeframe for hiring and training them, it is inevitable that administrative mistakes will be made".

Approach

In order to provide reasonable assurance as to whether election officials performed their duties and functions as prescribed by the CEA, we selected a sample of EDs from across Canada and gathered sufficient and appropriate evidence to conclude on the audit objective. Evidence gathering techniques comprised of direct observation, enquiries and inspection of election documents (representing the certificates, forms, reports and other paperwork required to serve an elector and document the results).

In order to assess whether DROs, PCs and REGOs properly performed the duties imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act, we determined that it was necessary to perform audit procedures on site at polling stations on all days of advance polls and on election day (October 19, 2015), as well as election documents returned to EC's warehouse facility following the electoral event. Our sample included polling stations in each Canadian province and territory and resulted in PwC auditing over 10,000 electoral interactions.

We evaluated the design and implementation of specific administrative controls – specifically the training of election officials and associated guidebooks/other materials. This included an in-depth review of the content of the training programs, attendance at a sample of training sessions and interviews with ROs, recruitment officers and training officers. During advance polls, as well as on election day, we posed a series of questions to election officials to obtain their perspective on their training experience and supporting materials.

Summary of findings

We concluded that:

  1. On all days of advance polling and on election day, election officials properly exercised the powers conferred on them, and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act with respect to regular electors (representing approximately 90% of electors). We did not note any major findings relating to deviations in key controls and procedures with respect to regular voters.

  2. On all days of advance polling and on election day, election officials properly exercised the powers conferred on them and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act with respect to electors subject to special procedures (approximately 10% of electors). We noted only one major finding from a deviation related to key controls relating to special procedures. We noted that some of the administrative procedures were not performed consistently but these deficiencies were record-keeping in nature.

  3. The content of the training programs and the delivery of these programs was effective. Election officials reported that the guidebooks and other aids were useful (provided they had time to refer to them) in performing their responsibilities and troubleshooting when they were unsure of how to proceed. We identified opportunities to focus more time during training on the administration of the special procedures and the associated documentation as some election officials did not feel fully equipped to deal with these scenarios after completing their in-class training program.

EC asked us to report any other relevant observations that we captured during the course of our work that might assist them to improve or enhance their processes. In this context, we identified a number of additional observations, which we have reported to EC. The two most significant observations are set out below. These observations were not directly related to the scope of our audit and as a result, did not impact our overall conclusion.

Summary of recommendations

Three primary recommendations are being proposed for consideration by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). It should be noted that some of the recommendations, if implemented, could eliminate the need for others. In some cases, implementation may require legislative changes. It is suggested that each recommendation be fully evaluated and if a decision is made to proceed, each one should be tested fully before full implementation. The proposed recommendations as well as EC's responses are summarized as follows (full recommendations are presented in Appendix A to this report).

  1. Modernize the electoral process, including automation of components.

  2. Explore opportunities for streamlining procedures at advance polls and for special procedures.

  3. Consider enhancements to the existing training program to ensure that necessary focus/time is given to the administration of the special procedures and to ensure election officials understand why/how to complete the activities.